Remembering Frank Solivan Sr.

Aug 25, 2023 | Announcements

Michael Hall

Frank Solivan Sr, Founder Of Kids On Bluegrass, Banjo Player, & Fisherman
Frank Solivan, Sr., who changed the future course of bluegrass music when he organized onstage children’s performances at festivals, died today following a serious vehicle accident earlier this year, and more recently, a bout with pneumonia. He was 78 years old.

Frank Solivan I (Frank, Sr.) had his youthful son Frank Solivan II (just Frank) with him at one early festival held at the Amador County Fairgrounds in Plymouth, CA. Frank the elder arranged for his son and another young picker to play music together in camp, and then play a short set on stage. This performance was a huge hit, leading to the creation of an ongoing program usually called Kids On Bluegrass that Frank, Sr. led at numerous Northern California bluegrass festivals. The popular main stage act involved kids at the festival auditioning, being organized into bands, rehearsing, and then finally performing before the full audience. The instruction included on-stage performance techniques.

After launching at Plymouth, Frank brought the kids performances to the California Bluegrass Association Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival as “Kids On Bluegrass” in Grass Valley and the Northern California Bluegrass Society Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival as “Kids On Stage” in Tres Pinos, and later to other California festivals. These events continued with other leadership after Frank chose to focus his work exclusively on the Father’s Day Festival, which offered two prominent evening KOB performances at each festival.

Bluegrass musician Mary Burdette played at the FDF, saw the KOB, and was inspired to bring the kids idea to the Grey Fox Festival she helped run in New York. NCBS’ Michael Hall was also impressed with Frank’s work and set up a Leadership Bluegrass Master Class featuring Frank and Mary at the International Bluegrass Music Association World Of Bluegrass convention in Nashville. This class brought Frank’s ideas to the larger bluegrass world when class attendees began to create kids performances at festivals across the country. The IBMA convention, with Kim Fox as instigator and Frank as consultant, itself began to feature hours of high-quality kids performances on a special children’s stage.

The secondary effect of the kids shows went well beyond the popularity of the act at a particular festival. Many participants formed their own youth bands that were separately booked at festivals in addition to the regular KOB performances.

Some well-known young bluegrass stars took this path, including (from Northern California alone) Molly Tuttle, Sullivan Tuttle, Michael Tuttle, AJ Lee, Miles Quale, Teo Quale, Niko Quale, John Gooding, Josh Gooding, Jacob Gooding, Jack Kinney, Jesse Personeni, Helen Lude, Lucy Khadder, Jasper Manning, Sophia Sparks, Ida Winfree, Tessa Schwartz, Nate Schwartz, Max Schwartz, Annie Staninec, and many more. The new bands included The Tuttles With AJ Lee, Crying Uncle, Jubilee, North Country Blue, Birches Bend, The Blue J’s, 45 Years Of Trouble, Salty Sally, Who’s Feeling Young Now, and many more.

Sharon Nichols Elliott began to work with Frank at the Plymouth festival and helped teach the kids over many years. She was also the publicist for the show. It was a once in a lifetime experience for her. Many other volunteers worked with Frank and the kids as time passed. Frank recently retired from the KOB after three decades of teaching and organizing.

In addition to creating the KOB, Frank was a popular banjo player and emcee and an enthusiastic supporter of bluegrass music in Northern California. He helped host the famed CBA California Hospitality Suite at the IBMA convention. He also worked as a volunteer at the Strawberry Music Festival when it was held at Camp Mather near Yosemite, where he hosted one of the most popular jam camps.

He took great pride in the success of his son Frank as he first joined the US Navy Bluegrass Band Country Current and then his own Washington, DC-based band Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen. Frank, Sr. joined the internationally-touring band on some of its travels, and was always there when his son and his band were honored with IBMA Awards.

When he took time off from bluegrass, Frank, Sr. loved to fish most of the month of August in Alaskan waters. He was often joined by his fish-loving son, who is a chef as well as a bluegrass musician.
Frank was born in Fresno and lost his father at a young age. He grew up with his mother and stepfather Nick Ventura and lived throughout the Central Valley. Frank was a member of a large musical family with 10 children — he had 4 brothers and 5 sisters. His extended family played multiple musical genres and his mother taught all of the children music. Frank chose bluegrass banjo as his instrument of choice as an adult. Frank attended Galt High School and after graduation from beauty school in Hayward, worked for a time as a beautician. He then joined his brother and worked in the roofing business. He later repaired mobile homes.

Frank Solivan, Sr. is survived by his son and one sister.